Three years ago, Chapin tennis coach John Rodgers was celebrating the first Class 3A state championship of his career.
That victory opened the floodgates.
This year, Rodgers and the Eagles can tout a third consecutive title after defeating Nation Ford 6-0 on May 12.
Rodgers answered some questions from The State about the experience of claiming a three-peat.
What was the biggest difference from last year’s championship to this?
It’s always wonderful to win the last match … it was something, I’ll tell you. Our kids just did a great job. It was just, I don’t know what to say about it. It was just such a team thing. We had a lot of heroes.
We had a great nucleus coming back last year; this year it was more of a team thing. These kids took leadership of the team. It was very rewarding seeing that we’re more than just good tennis players, we’re a great program. It was really something.
What did your team learn during this season that helped you prepare for a championship?
We always divide (the season) into three parts — preseason, regular season, and postseason — kind of like stepping stones.
We had some tough matches in the regular season, and we took that a step at a time. We just came through taking one match a time. It’s just a gratifying feeling to see the kids improving all the time. Some of those kids had not been in that position before.
How have you changed as a coach these past few championship years?
To accept the kids for what they can do. Nothing replaces confidence. We can do some things in practice, but come match time, everybody has got to be supportive of their teammates and confident in what they can do.
How did the team adapt to having a new leader, Jeffrey Koch, at No. 1 singles?
The one thing that was the same was that we still had the name Koch in there.
After Kyle (who now plays at USC), winning 75 matches in a row, and not having his experience ... we didn’t have No. 1 locked up. And I think that really helped our team, because everybody knew they had to step up.
What was the role of the seniors on your team this year?
All of them were big contributors for us in this effort. Alex Arkin, a two-year starter, had some very big wins this year and he matured himself. That was big. Michael Nichols, that kid is an athlete who became a good tennis player and finally figured this thing out and that helped out a lot.
And, Duncan Brown secured the match in doubles with an ace, and that was just great to watch.
How did you feel watching this year’s championship matches?
I was nervous. Not because of the match but because I could watch all six courts at a time, and we won five of the first sets on the six courts.
I was thinking to myself, “This was too easy.” Sean Koch was playing out of his mind, and I said hopefully this is going to continue, but I was getting a little nervous. And then Jeffrey came all the way back in the No. 1 singles. What a way to win. If you’d a told me we’d win 6-0, I’d have said no way.
How does the future look for the Chapin Eagles?
We feel good about our program. We will have four starters coming back next year, and we’ll have some spots to fill. We’ve been very fortunate all through the years to have people step in and step up. You have two players coming back with a bunch of experience, and hopefully some more new kids will step up.
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419